A South African company is harnessing the power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to help bring the HIV epidemic under control and tackle other major health crises.

BroadReach Consulting is using ground-breaking AI-technology, along with human expertise, to dramatically ramp up services at every level of the public health hierarchy. The ultimate aim is to transform the health system by empowering staff to be more effective and, in the process, to save more lives.

The company works with various partners implementing the PEPFAR (The United States President’s Emergency Fund for Aids Relief) funded grant for USAIDS’s five-year epidemic control program in South Africa, called APACE (Accelerating Program Achievements to Control the Epidemic).

BroadReach has headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa, offices in five countries, and has worked in over 25 countries to develop solutions to delivery of public healthcare in underserved countries, partnering with governments, international NGOs and the private sector.

The company is an implementing partner of Vantage Technologies, an AI-powered performance coach that makes healthcare workers more effective. Vantage is able to analyse data immediately from a large range of sources − ranging from population and health service data to information about the weather − to analyse service delivery. It then makes recommendations for step-by-step action, directing staff to take the right action at the right time, rather than make decisions based on gut instinct, habit or anecdotal evidence.

It enables people at every level in the system to be more effective at their jobs. “Before the technology can be implemented, consultants must map the data pathways and existing processes in a health system, find the fault lines, reimagine the system to make it more productive, and then use the technology to supercharge staff productivity,” says BroadReach co-CEO Ernest Darkoh.

“Individual healthcare workers can be provided with an app showing when targets are missed and intervention is required, in real-time. Managers are able to oversee the performance of thousands of field staff from one place, and the health minister can be provided with a birds-eye view of the programme.

“The potential benefits of this approach are unlimited.”

One aim is to end the HIV epidemic entirely. In some regions, great progress towards this end is already being made, as seen in results in Africa that USAID published as part of its PEPFAR 15-year anniversary last November.

These figures show that through PEPFAR-funded programmes, 17-million lives have been saved; 14,6-million people are on anti-retroviral treatment; over 2,4-million babies have been born HIV-free to mothers living with HIV, and Ethiopia is on the verge of achieving HIV epidemic control.

In South Africa, BroadReach, with its clients, is implementing Vantage as part of its HIV Solution in partnership with, among others, the Department of Health in provinces including KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

The programme is supported by USAID-assisting partners and is working towards the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals for bringing HIV epidemic under control. This vision aims to ensure that 90% of people living with HIV know their status, 90% of those who test positive receive treatment, and 90% of those on treatment remain virally suppressed.

South Africa has the highest HIV-prevalence in the world, and KwaZulu-Natal is the epicenter of the epidemic in South Africa.

In the period 2012 – 2018, BroadReach worked with the KZN Department of Health in implementing its HIV programme, and Vantage was part of the solution. The results are that 5,5-million people were tested for HIV, 530 000 of these patients are now on anti-retroviral therapy, and a healthy 93% of these patients are virally suppressed.

As the lead implementing partner of a USAID-funded consortium called Regional Access through Data (RAD), BroadReach is also using Vantage to look at innovative ways to improve access to healthcare across borders in West and East Africa, and is running a pilot programme on cross-border immunisations in East Africa, in partnership with the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and on how children’s health could be managed better across borders.

Human expertise and technology could also be combined to manage the threat of cross-border outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola. The Cross-Border Disease Threat solutions is currently in development in partnership with the West African Health Authority (WAHO), to help coordinate regional infections disease management across their 15 member states.

“Technology for technology’s sake is useless. What is exciting is that, in the right hands, it can unlock productivity and inspire the action that can change lives,” says Dr Darkoh.

“This is a solutions-oriented rather than crisis-driven approach, providing the path towards the best possible outcome.”